Monthly Archives: March 2013

From Picket Fence to New Unit Development

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When the alternative form of housing is too costly, too far away and without transport, essential services or amenity, when we are too old or busy to care about the white picket fence and the state of the hedges, we warm to the unattractive bulk of the new unit development.

A new group will leave the safety and seclusion of their own free standing homes to embrace, in an awkward way at first, the concept of living in closer community.

But these are different forms of home. They are not detached. These are attached homes with shared walls, floors, ceilings and facilities and when it comes to sharing property, we have a lot to learn.

Australian Strata Laws Lead the Charge

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In 1961, the first Australian strata title laws were passed. These laws made it possible to subdivide airspace by reference to walls, floors and ceilings.

Under this ingenious legal concept you could individually hold the title deed to your apartment, evidencing your separate ownership of this space and share the common supports, infrastructure, services and facilities with the other owners in the block by membership of what were initially called bodies corporate (later to become known in some jurisdictions as owners corporations).

Problem solved. No more pesky interfering co-owners to thwart the freedom of the individual when it comes to dealing with their homes, even if they were just flats or home units as they became known at this time. Banks could lend to individual owners who, under this system, could change their asset as they pleased. It also meant owners could pass their title to others without the consent of the company and rent the apartments for as long or as short a period as they liked, to whomever they liked.

Five decades on, the Australian strata title system has evolved to be one of the most sophisticated systems of its type in the world. Our laws have become the model for many other countries and allow us flexibility to develop the built environment to meet the ever-changing needs and wants of our society.

The New Fourth Tier of Government

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These bodies, known variously throughout Australia as owners corporations, bodies corporate, strata companies and the like, are the new fourth tier of government.

The Feds will determine housing policy and funding, the states will determine where and what we build, the local authorities will determine how we build but it is the owners corporation that determines when we use the pool and how much we pay to keep it clean. And we care more about this than anything else. So we seek it out, this thing called the owners corporation.

New owners are to an owners corporation as new parents are to a school’s parents and friends association – very often it is only the new that are there. That is, other than the compulsive volunteer. The compulsive volunteers are the ones who can’t say ‘no’. The ones who think ‘if I don’t do it, then who will?’ and they are generally right. So the new, who know nothing old and the old, who know nothing new, form the group that governs how the owners will share the rights and responsibilities of the common property………..

Practical Tips on Preparing for ACAT Hearings

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Appearing in a Court or Tribunal is a novel and foreign concept for many people. However, as a result of recent changes to strata legislation appearing in ACAT is becoming a more common occurrence for owners corporations, committee members, unit owners and strata managers.

While ACAT is considered to be a more informal forum than a Court, it still pays to be prepared before your appearance. The reality is that parties often have less than an hour to present their case which has normally arisen over a period of months or even years.

Some practical tips that help both lawyers and self-represented parties to prepare for hearings include confirming the legal basis of your case (for example checking if there is a provision in the Unit Titles (Management) Act 2011 that covers your issue), filing succinct clear written submissions in support of your case well in advance of the hearing and ensuring you take all relevant evidence to the hearing.

At the hearing, make sure you are on time, you address the Tribunal member as “Sir” or “Ma’am” and you do not interrupt the other party.

For particularly complex matters, engaging a lawyer to represent you or your owners corporation can ensure the merits of your case are presented to the Tribunal at their highest. Obtaining preliminary legal advice to establish the merits of your case can also help focus and direct your case in a way that will be meaningful to the Tribunal member should you choose to represent yourself at a hearing.

Posted by Nicole Wilde

Posted by Michael Teys

Narrow Your Focus and Know Your Turf

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With an agreed focus on common property a group newly elected to administer it should start with a simple discussion about what is and what’s not common property. This helps your focus.

What’s common property? Answer: common property is everything on the strata plan that is not a lot. What’s a strata plan? Answer: it’s the document registered with the titles office that defines what you own yourself and what you share with the fellow members of your owners corporation. What’s a lot? Answer: that which is shown as such in words and by drawings on the strata plan. Thick solid lines mark the boundaries.

A new committee should each have a copy of the strata plan and spend 10 minutes looking at what they are elected to run. Does the Premier of New South Wales care what’s in Queensland and vice versa? No. They might care about the boundaries so they pay only for the services to the border town they have to but that’s the extent. So learn the boundaries and stay out of other people’s turf. As the owners organisation, you are only concerned with common property. What happens in a lot is only relevant if it affects use and enjoyment of common property.

This simple technique alone will save an owners corporation a world of pain and distraction of precious little volunteer hours.

Community Gardens are Great Works in Progress

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There is a lot to be said for the resurgence of the community garden.

As the peas sprout and the lettuces grow, there is something in your plan to look at and talk about where once there was grass that was never watched. The elderly or the shy might emerge from their units and talk to the growers much as people feel able to do so to a complete stranger fishing on a jetty. Someone unable to bend and weed might bake a cake or make a thermos of tea for the Saturday afternoon workers.

People who once struggled to make eye contact in the common stairwell are now talking and doing things for each other. The seasonal crop is grown and now what to do – a shared picnic meal on the common lawn to which all residents are invited by a note slipped under the door is the suggestion. Some attend, some don’t, but all have been asked so everyone wins. With the surplus produce divided at the picnic’s end, talk starts of the next season’s planting and on it goes.

The vegetable patch is a metaphor for the community that has grown…..

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